A Travellerspoint blog

Epilogue: One Year Later

The adventures are far from over…

Since leaving Norway, my life has been launched on an absolutely thrilling path I could have never foreseen – one thing has built on another in the most spectacular way...

THE LAST YEAR OR SO

JANUARY 2010
Due to the interruption in my studies posed by my Norwegian exchange, I had a winter term of school to fill. A professor of mine at the U of Saskatchewan kindly agreed to hire me on with his group in the Institute of Space and Atmospheric Studies (ISAS), giving me a chance to experience life as a graduate student in the space sciences, not to mention the opportunity to remain active and on-campus.

FEBRUARY 2010
Leading from ISAS, I was invited to speak at a CaNoRock conference at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. In addition to the chance to meet some of the great individuals responsible for organizing this program, I was also met a representative from Bristol Aerospace, the very company who had designed the rocket we had launched. This proved very beneficial…

MAY 2010
…as I was hired on for a full-time summer internship with their space engineering division in Winnipeg! In addition to learning more about that rocket, I was also a part of the Radarsat Constellation Mission team, and was able to apply a great deal of my Satt/Rock knowledge within this firm.

JULY 2010
Thanks again to CaNoRock, I applied for and was accepted as a Canadian Space Agency student delegate to the Congress of the Committee on Space Research, a HUGE conference on space science held every two years with the absolute top level of researchers, scientists, and policy makers. At this conference, I helped bring bring the story of CaNoRock to the world stage and met dozens of peers and leaders from across the world as I soaked in every possible detail of space science.

Oh, right. Did I mention the conference was in Bremen?

I don’t know what good karma I generated, but wow! Raimo came to the conference, he showed I and my fellow Canadian delegates an excellent time, and we explored his home city properly while taking in the very best of the conference lifestyle (it worth a blog of its own). And then, when the conference finished, we headed just a few miles out of town and picked up a lonely Austrian on the side of the road…

AUG 2010
You guessed it – we had found ourselves an Alex! With Alex, Raimo, and Julia, we set out on a great odyssey from Bremen all the way to Brittany, the home of Marie and Pierre-Marie. Five days of hiking, sailing, swimming, and surfing (well, somewhat) were made all the more exceptional by our marvellous French hosts, the family LeFeuvre. On the way home, I was treated to Cologne courtesy of Marc and Hagen courtesy of Jana. My great fortune to be back in Europe so soon still astounds me, especially as my hosts (Raimo, Lefeuvre, Marc, Jana) were second-to-none once again.

SEPT 2010 AND COUNTING...
Finally, my term of Space Systems Engineering has forever altered my academic path; I am currently involved in both a scientific balloon and nanosat program, and am pursuing graduate studies in aerospace engineering come the fall. I can’t wait.

A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE

Perhaps most profoundly, those five months in Norway had an effect on me as a person that is near-impossible to overstate:

  • I am more self-reliant, more confident, and more willing to take risks and pursue my dreams.
  • I have a new appreciation for my homeland and for my friends at home and abroad.
  • I have kept a healthy correspondence back across the Atlantic, which has sadly taken a backseat as I have finished up this journal (but will be resumed soon, I promise).
  • I have a new country to cheer for in the sporting world (except when they curl against Canada, even in the best pants of life).
  • I have a fun language to toss around when I’ve had a few pints of øl.

Even a year later, I continue to stumble upon new ways in which my life was enriched by those five months spent above the Arctic Circle. If we are indeed a part of all that we have met, then for the lives I touched and those that touched me I am truly blessed.

Above all, I am thankful that so very long ago, in what seems like another life, I retrieved that e-mail regarding the Fellowship for Studies in the High North, flagged it for further thought, and was allowed the chance to experience this life-changing opportunity to the fullest.

Here, at the end of all things, I thank you my readers for your feedback and support, and I look forward to joining you again one day. And you know, I can’t help but feel that life has another great adventure waiting just around the corner.

Har det!

Posted by adamvigs 06:09 Comments (2)

Denouement: The Roundabout Journey Home

Just a few more days, please?

As I mentioned earlier when discussing the London expedition, those of us UiT students who weren’t fortunate enough to call Europe home were rather keen on taking advantage of our newfound access to continental Europe. Thus, in addition to the trip-to-England-that-nearly-killed-me, I had ALSO accepted a kind invitation from Raimo to visit both his hometown and his university-town.

Because nothing in life is easy, my flightplan looked something like this:

17 Dec: Fly to Oslo from Tromsø*
18 Dec: Fly to Bremen (Raimo’s hometown) from Oslo*
19 Dec: Train to Marburg (Raimo’s university town)
22 Dec: Fly to Oslo from Frankfurt*
23 Dec: Fly to Calgary via Frankfurt*
-*includes a train

Yes, you read that correctly. The plan was to fly to Germany, fly to Norway, and fly BACK to Germany en route to Canada. The final flight (the flight home) had been booked since July, and for reasons that still confuse me Air Canada was entirely unwilling to let me catch my flight at the layover point.

All told, within two weeks I wrote 3 finals, caught 9 flights, hopped 7 trains, and a hitched along a smattering of buses, trams, and elevators, and undergrounds. Most of the time with my life’s possessions in tow.

We can debate my sanity later – there’s still a few stories to tell.

ALL’S WELL AS ENDS BETTER

Thankfully, aided by some spectacular hospitality, I was able to have a relatively relaxing and healing final week in Europe. As I mentioned last week, I was sick as a dog at this point – having a night in a genuine family home with Raimo (a real mother, home-cooked meals and hot water bottles) followed by a few nights in Marburg under the care of Raimo and Julia (his girlfriend) did absolute wonders for my health.

RYANAIR – TRAVEL ON THE CHEAP

A major reason I was able to travel as much as I did was the economic travel options available in Western Europe. In particular, I’m going to tell you a little story about Ryanair.

Ryanair is a strange little Irish airline that flies from city to city for as little as, well, free. (Of course there are a few airport fees and the like, but you are still booking your flight for twenty or thirty bucks).

However, there are a few catches:

  • Carry-on baggage only (each checked bag is $40);
  • Must print own boarding pass ($40 otherwise);
  • Rush seating only (reserving is $40);
  • Non EU aliens (i.e. me) must show up exorbitantly early for processing (otherwise – you guessed it - $40);
  • No food or beverage service (I never checked, but I bet each beer was $40 too).

Not only that, but Ryanair only flies out of smaller regional airports (which need to be reached by bus/train, rumoured to be owned by the airline) and has flights booked at awful times of the day, making transfers near impossible.

However, if you’re willing to live out of one carry-on and play by all their other rules, it can be an exceedingly economic way to travel.

And so it was that I found myself at Sandefjord airport, billed on Ryanair’s website as Oslo (Sandefjord). Talk about misleading – it was over 100 km away from the city! For my Saskatchewan readers, this would be like booking a flight to Regina or Saskatoon and landing in Davidson.

For most of the afternoon I played the Ryanair game like a pro, putting up with the endless queues and winding my way onto the plane. Once onboard, I was fairly pleased with the pleasant hostesses and the comfortable leather seats, and settled myself in at the rear of the plane with Mozart wafting gently over the PA system.

And then, with the slightest little setting, Ryanair almost managed to tick me off. For it was that from boarding until takeoff, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik played no less than ten times.

Even the work of the great Amadeus, ten times over… thank goodness for over-ear headphones.

BREMEN

Dazed and bundled, I stumbled off the plane in Bremen to a respectable blizzard, even by Canadian standards. Raimo was a sight for sore eyes, hauling me into his vehicle with apologies for the weather. His apologies continued as we weaved in and out of timid German motorists absolutely befuddles by the flakes on the road (“Adam! I wish you could be here in the summer – then we take my father’s car and we do 200!”).

With no great fuss, we made it to his beautiful old farmhouse some 30 km outside of Bremen. Before I could blink, I had a bottle of Beck’s in one hand (the pride of Bremen) and a hot cup of tea in the other. This treatment continued throughout the night, as Raimo’s parents fussed over this sickly Canadian while regaling me of stories of their own backpacking through Canada (through Saskatchewan!) some thirty years earlier. In particular, I remember the meal I was treated to – traditional foods from both of his parents, centred with a unique and tasty salad from Hessen (his father’s home region) with a cream based dressing and hard-boiled eggs. (Though I must say, I was so sick at this point that most everything tasted about the same as cardboard.)

ON THE DEUTSCHE BAHN

Of all my train rides in Europe, our daytime trip to Raimo’s university-town of Marburg was my favourite. Whipping across the German countryside on the ultra-efficient and timely German train system, I couldn’t help but wonder why such a service wasn’t available back home.

Unfortunately, my daydream was shattered by the snow that was wreaking havoc across Europe. For the first time in Raimo’s memory, our connection in Hannover was delayed. However, as we were in no rush, we took this chance to tour the Christmas market just outside the doors of the train station.

And as there’s always a silver lining: I had my first proper sausage since leaving Canada in August. German bratwurst with proper mustard for one euro fifty – bargain. For all its greatness, Norway did NOT know how to make a sausage.

Finally, the train showed up, and we happily munched away on the sandwiches packed by Raimo’s mom (hearty sunflower bread and thick cheese) while we filled out ten-euro refund forms as long as our arms (“German bureaucracy” - Raimo).

MARBURG

All of Raimo’s stories of his university-town couldn’t even come close to the truth – and he was a local. But I shall do my best.

Marburg is a beautiful little German city, built on a hill with tightly-packed houses and cobblestone streets winding up the hill to a castle at the very top. At its heart it is a university-town, with elegant stone buildings of each faculty scattered about the old city. I may have been a little starry-eyed, but to me, it seemed to spring from a fairy tale.

We spent our three days padding the cobblestones of Marburg, cutting up impossibly hidden footpaths, stumbling upon little shops and warm corner pubs, and marvelling at the Dickens-like character of Christmastime in the beautiful burg. Highlights included:

  • A hearty meal of aufläufe (roughly, casserole) at a restaurant that specialized in the same – a tasty mixture of pasta, chicken, broccoli, cheese, ham, and a rich cream sauce that came, complete with a weißbier (wheat beer) for less than a Norwegian Big Mac.
  • A snowy hike up the hill facing Marburg to visit the Spiegelslustturm (roughly, “mirror-like tower”; also the Kaiser Wilhelm Tower) for a beautiful panoramic view of… the snowstorm. However, the glühwein (mulled wine) at the top of the hill more than made up for the panoramic lack - I have searched and searched for such a drink on this side of the ocean, but to naught.
  • A true student dwelling – average temperature of fifteen degrees (great for my cold…) and water meters on both the toilet and shower. I must say, nothing makes one more conscious of water usage than the dial climbing a foot in front of one’s face.
  • The lovely Christmas Market in every corner of the town (with hot candied almonds, wow!), particularly by the square of St. Elisabeth’s Church. The Elisabethkirche itself as a famous and beautiful church, with twin towering spires, a partial set of stunning stained-glass windows, and one of the most unique pipe organs I have ever seen. It also has quite a history: from its original role as a pilgrimage destination containing the relics of Elisabeth of Hungary (herself a wonderful role model) to its current literal split between Catholic and Lutheran worship spaces, it is an excellent record of the tumultuous history of Christianity in Germany.
  • This compares with the other notable church in Marburg; it has a bent spire because “a giant sat on it”. Or so Raimo says.
  • Proper cheap student food at the University cafeteria – three dollars for all-you-can-eat pea soup (with a bratwurst afloat in its midst). This was matched in uniqueness only by the drink of Jägermeister we enjoyed at a little Mexican-themed restaurant just off the river Lahn.
  • Finally, courtesy of Julia, I got a real good haircut for a real good price! A bathroom special, it was just what I needed to make the trip home as safe and simple as possible – if you look at those last pictures from Norway, it was getting fairly out of hand. Had the Norwegians not charged some sixty or seventy dollars for a haircut, this may not have been the case.

TRANSMISSIONS FROM MARBURG

Culled from my e-mails home, a final pair of my updates back to Canada:

“Marburg (Raimo's universitz town) is so cool! It's literallz built around a castle on a high hill with narrow winding cobblestone streets all the waz up and down. Had a great daz just walking about todaz, and am looking forward to exploring more with him and his girlfriend Julia tomorrow! Hope zou're reallz enjozing Christmas at home!!
(p.s. the craftz Germans seem to have hidden the "y" on me... if I find it, I'll let zou know.)”

“We went to service in the beautiful old University church today, and I played the organ! Wow, I'm going to miss those when I get home – they’re everywhere here. Also, I learned Silent Night in German with Raimo, Julia, and her guitar – very cool. Well, I almost learned it... they have this one sound I still can't master, it involves vibrating the throat in a funny fashion.”

BACK TO OSLO

Finally, on the 22nd of December, Raimo packed me to the train station in Marburg, from where I was to catch a train to Frankfurt am Main, a bus over the 120 km to “Frankfurt-Hahn” airport (another Ryanair special), a flight back to Sandefjord, a train back to Oslo, and a subway to my evening’s accommodation courtesy of Robert Udnesseter, my former hockey linemate and friend from Notre Dame.

Robert had been instrumental in these plans, hosting me in Oslo both on the way down to Germany and on the way back. On the way down, he treated me to a marvellous meal at his workplace, the restaurant fru HAGEN if memory serves. On the way back, he had already made his way home, but kindly offered the use of his apartment as a point of rest, arranging a rendezvous with his cousin at the opera house for the key transfer (true story) then instructing me to leave the key zipped in a particular coat pocket in a particular trunk stored on his deck. This made my entire travel plans much easier, and the bottle of Canada’s finest I left for him does not even come close to repaying this kindness.

At this point, I think I must say a huge thank you to every one of my hosts. Amazingly, Robert’s efforts were right in line with my treatment from all my friends, as time and time again I was shown stunning hospitality and extraordinary levels of kindness. If any of you are reading this, thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I welcome you back to Canada with open arms in the faint hope I might be able to repay even the tenth measure of your generosity.

THE FINAL LEG

That final night in Oslo gave me a bitter reminder that Canada isn’t the only cold place in the world, but I managed to struggle through to the grocery store for my last round of Norwegian groceries (my last tube of Kaviar – no replacement found for that yet).

Clothing vacuum-tight, bags weighed, and all belongings triple-checked, I caught the subway and train to Oslo airport, fetched my OTHER checked bag from airport security, and settled in for the Oslo-Frankfurt-Calgary flight home.

It was with delight that I spied the Air Canada flight on the Frankfurt tarmac, and the hosts greeted me in Canadian English AND French. I settled in to a surprisingly comfortable seat, enjoyed the finest in Canadian programming, and knocked back my first Canada Dry and Caesar in 5 months (don't worry, not in the same glass).

After an eight-hour transatlantic flight and a quick bag-check at Calgary Immigrations (I managed to sneak my Kaviar-tube past them), I passed through the gate and into the arms of my parents.

My Norwegian adventure had come to its close. I was home.

Posted by adamvigs 05:53 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

Week 19: Farewell to Tromsø

Boy, did I find out who my friends were...

Stardate: 15 December 2009.
Location: Oslo Airport Gardermoen.

I’m sitting at a “Boston Burger” joint in the airport, still trying to shake myself awake after a dreadful 4AM wakeup call at my London hostel. Josh and I had closed down the Lyric pub in Soho and then some, having an absolutely marvelous time with our Australian and Bristolian barkeeps – the double-decker bus ride home was never so entertaining.

In front of me is a long-awaited treat:

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That’s right! They were a little pale, but as each burger was specified to be delivered with a “real pickle” I was certain I had finally found my first non-sweet pickle in Norway.

Alas, the first bite showed me that I’d have a few weeks yet to wait. Blast.

Pickles polished off (and Norwegian bartender thoroughly confused by my request – but I assume that went without saying), I found an electrical outlet (my laptop battery finally giving out after four months of 220 V power) and settled into my Numerical Simulations review. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was writing my last final the day AFTER my flight back to Tromsø and the day BEFORE my flight out of Tromsø. I was starting to comprehend the packed nature of the next few days ahead, but was confident in my ability to pack after my morning exam.

But then there was the matter of that nagging itch at the back of my throat…

NO SOUP FOR YOU!

After steadily declining through the evening of study and packing (except my stress level, of course – that was hardly declining), I awoke on the morning of the 16th in hardly the ideal state to write an exam. Packing to the last minute, I just caught the last bus to the university and made it to my exam with about ten minutes to spare.

And the door was locked.

Numerical Simulations was my first formal written examination (the previous three having been written) and I hadn’t quite grasped the severity of the Norwegian exam proceedings.

Apparently:

  • I was to be there fifteen minutes ahead of time (no exceptions).
  • I was not to speak upon entering the exam room.
  • I was to only have escorted bathroom privileges (with the right to close a door but not to lock it) and to only use examination bathrooms kept under lock and key under all times of the year.
  • My bag was not to be near me, my pockets were to be empty, and God help me if they detected the hint of a cell phone.
  • All examinations were to be performed in black ink (blue was not accepted, pencils were outright scorned), all pages were to be numbered precisely, and all materials were to be assembled promptly before the examination period ended (a page unstapled or stapled incorrectly at the end of the three hours was not accepted for grading).

These rules (which I’m attempting to remember and believe are correct) were only a select few of the thick page of legalese that was posted to each and every table. For a country that had shown me the effectiveness of casual lecture and examination, this was a complete shock.

(editor’s note: the actual rules can be found at Exam Rules).

Luckily, a few of my Norwegian friends quickly convinced the moderators that I was in the right place, and I settled in to my examination.

But my blood pressure still hadn’t reached its peak.

About ten minutes into the exam, one moderator passed me a note in broken English that informed me I was forbidden from writing the exam due to a failure to complete all compulsory assignments, and was to cease writing at once.

Well.

As calmly as I could, I scrawled back a note indicating my confusion and opinion that I had indeed completed all assignments. The reply came: “Your name is Alex, correct?”

Whew. With relief, I informed her she had the wrong student, and I was able to resume writing in piece. I would like the record to state that this was not Alex from Austria – as far as I know, he crushed his examinations, including an absolutely masterful performance in Plasma Physics where the examiners were completely unable to pose a question he could not answer.

After a relatively straightforward final, I caught up with Vidar and Jørgen (this being our common class) and they presented me with two of my favourite Tromsø mementos as a Christmas gift. My lovely Tromsøkalendar still hangs on the wall (having brought a little piece of Norway into my house all this past year – AND with pictures by none other than Odd-Erik Garcia, my Plasma professor), while my “Harry Potter” (named by my aunt Tara) red & white Tromsø IL football scarf remains my favourite piece of winter gear and is displayed proudly during the summer months.

MAD DASH DOWNTOWN

Exams all finished, the real race began. Jørgen and Vidar picked up on my progressing sickness (I was completely wiped after that examination) and advised me to take it easy, but I still had souvenirs to buy, money to change, and errands to run (including a special postcard to the Sherven family of Wilcox, kindly forwarded by the postmaster at their ancestral home of Skjervøy). Along the way (specifically at the “World’s Best Souvenir Shop”) I ran into a few members of Team Germany. The concern on their faces was clear, and they too recommended some bedrest. Would that I had more time…

However, there was a great blessing to be had: today (on the very last day it could have arrived) a long-awaited care parcel arrived! A kindly returned favour from a friend of the family in Regina, it was so large it had been sent by boat and I had been greatly concerned that it would not make it. But boy, was it worth waiting for:

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Maple syrup, maple cookies, Tim Hortons hot chocolate & coffee, Vancouver 2010 swag, and a great selection of pins, hats, and flags – more than enough for my Christmas present.

As it turned out, the trickiest thing would be to give it all away in the short half-day I had remaining. Luckily, Oksana and Mikhail were just a few steps away:

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I spent the rest of the afternoon attempting to condense my entire room into my two suitcases. Even though I’d been steadily giving appliances, kitchenware, and accessories away to my friends around Tromsø (offhand I recall Tomek and Raimo benefiting well), I still had an absolute plethora of STUFF and I couldn’t get rid of it! In addition, I spent hours scrubbing my room to military-specification in order to get my deposit back (including a good hour and a half in the bathroom) – I was more than a little unimpressed when the review at 2:30 PM (which I passed) didn’t even enter the bathroom.

The hour set for Alex Murr’s farewell dinner at Prestvannet approached far too quickly and I was beginning to despair that I would ever leave Tromsø with my sanity. Coupled with the fact that I was beginning to be as sick as a veritable dog, my last night was hardly looking to be a fun one at all.

And then: my rescuers appeared.

A FRIEND IN NEED…

I can’t even begin to express my undying gratitude for what happened next.

Alex, Pierre-Marie, and Vit arrived at my room. My luggage (two large bags, a carry-on duffel, and a laptop backpack) was chock-full, but there were still things EVERYWHERE. School supplies, appliances, kitchenware, and food, food, food! I’d been doing my best to eat down, but still! My desk was positively covered with things still to pack, and I was a wreck.

Led by Pierre-Marie’s cries of “Throw it away!” (which I can still hear to this day), the three of them charged through my room and helped me decide on everything (in many cases, help meant deciding for me). Alex sorted through the kitchenware and appliances (taking much of it for the Prestvannet community kitchens), Pierre-Marie picked his way through the food, and Vit and I looked through my school supplies (again saving the useful things). Any food, malfunctioning appliance (which I tend to keep as they can still be useful) and schoolwork deemed unworthy (the VAST majority of it) was gleefully binned by PiM.

After a solid hour, we managed to get my room into a state where everything was packed and weighed (thanks to the girls down the hall) and we were able to head to Prestvannet for the single best Norwegian meal I had in Tromsø.

And it was cooked by an Austrian.

I kid you not. Alex took it upon himself to cook the entirety of the traditional Norwegian lutefisk meal, having never so much as eaten it himself. Not only that, but he invited so many of us to share it with him, and cooked nearly all of it himself:

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As for my first taste of lutefish? Well, for fish prepared with lye, it wasn’t half bad. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely exhausted at this point – I would welcome the chance to try it again under different circumstances.

This meal stands out in my memory – I felt so welcome, so cared for, and cannot imagine how my day would have proceeded if it hadn’t been for this amazing group of friends. I remember tearful farewells, tight blue bear hugs, and more emotion for these people than I could ever have believed possible. Finally, I remember the exchange of Christmas and farewell trinkets. Pierre-Marie and Marie gave me some wonderful French tinned fish (which I saved until my following birthday) while Alex was kind enough to give us some rich Austrian chocolate (is there any food they can’t make?). I was able to thank my saviours with the spoils from the day’s care package – Vit in particular was pretty pleased:

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After dinner and many farewells, a small contingent of us went back to Elverhøy for the last time to grab a few extra things (hockey sticks and gifts) that I was taking to Vidar’s for the night but not taking on with me (Vidar having kindly offered to put me up for the night). It seemed strange that it took so many of us to carry one person’s luggage, but I hadn’t had the chance to employ the all-important vacuum bags to my clothing and was unable to walk the dozen blocks by myself.

Having gone incredibly far beyond the call of duty, it was there on Kong Haakon VII’s Gate that I said farewell to some of my fondest friends in Norway. After a short wait, Vidar arrived to let me in and I hobbled my sorry carcass up his stairs, presented him with a few tokens of my appreciation:

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and after perusing the single greatest 3D mapping app every (kart.finn.no), flopped onto his couch for one last Mackøl:

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In spite of everything, I had survived my last full day in Tromsø.

SERENDIPITY – LITTLE RAYS OF SUNSHINE

I do apologize for the tone of the last section, but I was trying my best to convey the despair and utter gratitude that I felt as the day progressed. I promise, the story gets better from here.

In comparison to the previous day, the plan for 17th of January was nice and simple. Head to the university to withdraw my room deposit, return for my luggage, bump on over to the airport, and catch the flight out of Tromsø bound for Oslo. I pulled it all off without a hitch, even running into Jana and Marc at the airport – Jana in particular was very happy to see me alive after the run-in downtown as I was coughing and wheezing.

In fact, my day was blessed by two amazing co-incidences:

  • Upon arrival at the university, I was reminded that I would need to return my laundry card to receive my deposit back. I swore silently to myself, as I was convinced my laundry card had stayed in the Ziploc bag with my Bounce sheets as it had all term. However, on opening my wallet to retrieve some cash, I discovered that very same card! This small piece of luck saved me the great hassle of attempting to have NOK 3000 wired across the ocean.
  • In the Oslo airport, I elected to leave one suitcase behind and only travel with the second (the airport being some distance from town). I was about to leave the airport when I realized I hadn’t grabbed my Canadian flag giveaways for Rob (my former hockey teammate we had caught up with in Oslo so long ago). Returning to the bag checkout, I was informed that I had left my clipboard behind – the one with my passport and plane tickets. It turned out the flags in question weren’t even in the second suitcase (they had been left at Vidar’s), but the need to return from them saved me a potential Christmas in Oslo.

Someone was watching out for me, that much was certain.

GOODNIGHT TROMSØ

In such a rush to leave, I was barely able to say a proper farewell to my home for the last four and a half months. It was only once I collapsed into my seat on the plane that I was able to gaze out the window at the beautiful Tromsøya lights in mørketid. This place had changed my life forever, cleaving it so firmly in two that the life I have returned to in Canada bears little resemblance to the one I left. My approach to life, my self-knowledge and self-confidence, my appreciation for the many great gifts on this planet, so many things have changed. The experiences exploring, studying, and collaborating a new country have opened new doors for me at home and abroad, and given me wonderful memories to draw on and to inspire new adventures.

But above all, I will cherish forever the friends I made on that little Arctic island. Some I have had the good fortune to cross paths with again, some I have kept in touch with via the wonders of technology, and some are still on my to-write list. But all of them, all of them helped me learn what a beautiful world this is, a world that contains so many stories and people, each of them adding their own piece to the mosaic of the human race. They continue to enrich my life with postcards, Christmas cards, letters, and e-mails, and if any of them are reading this, I offer my heartfelt and overwhelming gratitude for turning a simple student exchange into the unrivalled experience of a lifetime.

However, it would be a foolhardy claim indeed to suggest that all of this crossed my sleep-deprived cold-addled mind as I huddled in that SAS airplane seat. I hadn’t yet forgone practical though for reflection; after all, I still had to make it back to Canada in once piece.

This is Adam-In-Norway, signing off (in spirit) for the last time from Tromsø, Troms, Norway.

Posted by adamvigs 16:12 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

WEEK 18b: LONDON!

Our great attempt to prove Tomek true.

THE PLAN

From about the middle of October, a group of North American students studying at the University of Tromsø were looking at ways to take advantage of their exchange as a jumping-off point to explore the rest of Europe. The weekends flew by, and our schedules just wouldn’t mesh.

Then someone had the bright idea: “What about December?”

On paper, the plan seemed simple enough: write three exams, pack up the apartment, fly to London (well, Gatwick) direct from Tromsø, fly back on the 15th, write an exam on the 16th, and leave Tromsø on the 17th.

Actually, as I write it now, it seems insane. Luckily, I’m still here to write about it.

And so it was that via a few different flights, Josh, Nina, Linda (Mexico), Melinda (erm, Wisconsin?), Loes, & I headed to the bright sunshine (remember, we were yet in the polar night) of London, England.

"Sure, you can do tourist London in three days”

So were the words of Tomek, our resident Tromsø expert on all things England. (Grace helped too, of course.) However, since this is in spirit a Norwegian blog (that 23-hour foray to Northern Finland being in that spirit), I’m just going to give an overview of the sights we hit. Anyone who wants to come share a Guinness and see 330-odd pictures from our three-day tour is more than welcome.

Setting out from our little hostel just off St. Paul's square, we spent our days "Minding the Gap" on the Underground, dodging double-deckers and black cabs, and looking the wrong way when crossing the street.

OUR WHIRLWIND TOUR IN POINT FORM

(along the way, of course, were all manner of touristy shots, shops, and pub stops.)

Day 1

  • London Bridge
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Trafalgar Square & Nelson's Column (site of the Canada Day street hockey extravaganza)
  • The British Museum (with the real Partheon Frieze)
  • Soho & Picadilly Circus by night

Day 2

  • St. Paul's Cathedral (for a beautiful Advent service)
  • Tower Bridge
  • Tower of London
  • Churchill Bunker
  • The John Snow Pub (the father of communicable disease treatment – I thought it was nifty)
  • The Lyric (great stop in Soho for pub fare)

Day 3

  • Tower of London (again – so cool, so very cool)
  • Hyde Park (alas that we missed the Corner the previous morning)
  • Natural History Museum
  • Covent Garden
  • Maple Leaf Tavern (Canadian expat pub - Sleeman's or Moosehead, anyone?)
  • The House of Commons (inside, actually)

And, to top it all off: Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" (showing number 23,771 - longest running play in the world) followed by a return to the Lyric (with two spectacular hostesses).

EPILOGUE

When all was said and done, we had three spectacular days in the former capital of the British Empire (and once nucleus of Canadian Government itself).

However, I never could have dreamed the impact this trip would have on my final days in Norway: for the rest of story, stay tuned…

Posted by adamvigs 19:36 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Week 18: Exam Season

I wish I had more to write about, I really do.

After the weekend’s festivities my nose went straight to the grindstone: I had two finals and a number of trips to pack for (more on those in the next post). Always resourceful, I kept the days packed with group study sessions:

IMG_1881.jpg

(Vit was a little tuckered out…).

I also took care of my Christmas shopping – resisting the urge to buy cheap hockey gear (there was the business of packing my own to worry about) and overcoming the shock of twenty dollars for a Thomas the Tank Engine figurine, I managed to pick out more than a few unique presents. Two of my favourites are hanging on Christmas trees back home this year: a pair of “God Jul” baubles dangle on ours, while a silver dove blends in perfectly with the themed tree of one of my more avid readers.

Though decidedly more subdued than their North American counterparts, the Tromsø retailers did their part to encourage the season of giving. The Coop next door got in the holiday spirit by installing an animatronic Santa Clause. What was so bad about that? Well… he was lifesize, continuously moving, and right by the front door - so much so that you could see him in there... moving... all night long... every time you walk by.

It was quite unsettling. Trust me on that one.

One final Christmas story: I received a quick note from home this week that Jim the Librarian had dropped by our family home in Wilcox with a five-pound bag of mixed nuts: "These are for the boy. I won't be here when he gets home."

By far one of my favourite presents last year.

EXAM SURVIVAL 101

Tip #1: All exams to be filled out in black pen. No exceptions.

More on the Norwegian exam rules next week – in the meantime, it's worth noting that my bag of Notre Dame College pens (brought over as little gifts for my friends) were suddenly in high demand. (“Adam, your pen saved my life today!”)

Tip #2: Find a distraction or ten.

I'll admit it, I'm a curling junkie – during this week the Olympic Trials were on, and it was the one of the first things I did every single morning. I even refused the check the standings before watching, preferring to let TSN’s recap buffer across the Atlantic.

In addition, my “buddy’s buddy” Michelle provided me with a little more exam distraction, as she recommended Sesam Stasjon for the Norwegian take on the childhood classic of Sesame Street (Trains AND “Erling og Bernt”? I’m in!). The Muppets helped keep my mind off the guitar chat Michelle and I had shared – as Christmas neared I was missing mine something terrible.

Tip #3: Find humour in the little things in life.

For example: I learned a new German word when Raimo expressed his need to borrow his neighbour's "dust suck". Literally translated from the German for vacuum – the little joys of such a rich linguistic environment.

It also occurred to me how strange it was that I had been carrying two cell phones around with me all the time – my Canadian one as an alarm/watch/scheduler, and my Norwegian phone (courtesy of Vidar) as an actual phone. A little odd, but more than functional.

UFO!!!

Or so it seemed.

In the early hours of December 9, a strange, spiralling, blue glow was seen in the Arctic skies north of Tromsø. The locals scratched their heads, the theorists proposed anything and everything, the photographers snapped away rolls of film, and the papers scrambled to stay on top of the story:

Nordlys article (translated)
Sun article

but at the end of the day it turned out to be a missile test by the Russians (of course the Russians – who else?). In a nutshell: instead of combustion with tail-exhaust, the missile cracked a hole in its side and introduced a lovely side-jet, causing a beautiful tumbling pattern.

In other words, the same technical problem as this rocket launch: Failed Student Rocket
(that’s from Andøya Rocket Range and is a sister model to the rocket we launched – apparently there’s a reason we’re all under safe cover for launch.)

Oh, and I suppose this can technically be filed under Tip #2 above, but my goodness it deserves its own section.

CLOSING IT ALL OFF

Hmm, that post actually turned out longer than I thought – guess I did find some time to have fun even in the midst of finals.

…Oh and the exams themselves? They went smashingly. Thoroughly enjoyed myself, both running through Professor Brekke’s geophysics and illustrating to Professor La Hoz (with great enthusiasm and hand-waving) precisely why a geosynchronous satellite with a non-zero inclination traces a perfect figure 8 on the surface of the earth. A pair of successful classes, and I owe much to both of those professors for providing me with a store of information that remains pertinent, useful, and above all exciting.

Skål!

Posted by adamvigs 18:24 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

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